Hashemian Blog
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May 21, 2011 - Judgment Day?

by @ 11:24 pm
Filed under: religion — Tags: , ,


*Update: The above clock was updated to reflect the recent news of the rapture taking place at 6 PM local time. Just in case we are in the midst of some intangible divine judgement, the clock has been changed to count forward, showing how far in we are. Good luck 🙂

A few months ago I happened on a radio station called Family Radio and a program called Open Forum. This is a call-in program in which various people pose questions about the Bible to the host and Bible scholar, Harold Camping. I have been an occasional listener ever since.

What makes Harold Camping interesting is that he is convinced (or at least he does a good job acting convinced) that the judgment day will begin on May 21, 2011 and after five months the world will be completely obliterated on October 21, 2011.

Camping exhorts his listeners to abandon their churches, which he believes are now controlled by Satan, and instead spend their time begging and pleading God for mercy on judgment day. The point being that beginning May 21, 2011 five months of great upheaval and calamity will grip the world. People will suffer and die of injuries and starvation. A number of true believers will be selected to be transported to heaven (rapture) and the rest will be left behind to be completely destroyed as the universe implodes into nothingness.

A tall tale, to say the least, but that's Camping's interpretation of the Bible and I'm sure he has many followers. So in honor of the judgment day and the end of the world I have placed a countdown clock at top of this post, based on my JavaScript Countdown tool, displaying the remaining time until the judgment day, May 21, 2011 12:00 AM UTC.

Lest you think I'm ridiculing the man or his belief, I must admit that I have no evidence refuting his claim. Of course the lack of a contrary evidence, does not validate the original claim. It only gives the claim a measure of plausibility, in this case a very miniscule amount. Safe to say that I'm not a follower, I'm not even religious. But I am following this case to its conclusion because I wonder what type of explanation the followers will be receiving on May 22, 2011.

Assisted Suicide

by @ 8:36 pm
Filed under: religion,social

Murderers or saviors? This is the story of 4 people who have found themselves on the opposite side of the law after their group was accused of facilitating the death of a suffering patient.

The group, known as Final Exit Network, helps terminally ill and suffering patients to end their lives peacefully and with dignity. No physical assistance is provided, instead the patients are given group support and guidance on how to end their own lives as painlessly as possible.

I don't know these people nor have I any knowledge of their motives. All I know is that on the surface their work on suicide guidance is nothing but admirable. They have had the courage to defy cruel and sadistic laws and help people end their pain and suffering. If they have flouted the so-called divine (superstitious) laws, so be it.

The state should have no business meddling in people's lives and their private decisions, specifically those who are obviously in such great pain. Nor should they be punishing those who only give guidance on suicide. It's one thing to intercede when a jilted teenager wants to commit suicide on a whim. It's an entirely different matter when a terminally ill patient in great pain wants to die in peace and dignity.

A message to the anti-euthanasia crusaders: You want to live till your last breath, that's your decision and I respect that. I want to die on my own terms. Leave it at that and do something positive, like perhaps donate to a cause for curing cancer.

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The Morality Argument

by @ 11:22 pm
Filed under: religion,social

For centuries religion has used various natural events and objects as proof of god. The Sun, the rain, storms, plants, and the stars have been essential tools in justifying the existence of god. But as science has progressed and has been able to provide answers for many tangible matters, religion has shifted its argument to the metaphysical, mainly the question of morality. The crux of the argument is that without an originator, morality could not have come to existence. In other words there is a supernatural force that guides us towards being moral and ethical, and that force is god.

Indeed science is currently impotent to link morality with molecules and atoms, but one can argue that morality is the result of accumulated human experiences and a need for perfection. Centuries of human development has taught people that societies can better function based on certain rules and one can sum up such rules as morality.

If god is responsible for morality, why would he dictate such behavior only in the last few millennium? And why is it that the rules of morality differ so much is various societies today? Many indigenous people around the world walk around with no clothes on. Polygamy is still widely practiced around the world. Stoning and severing limbs or heads happens in many places for even minor offences. Some consider these immoral, while others do not. And if god is the origin for everything, shouldn't he be considered as the originator of immorality as well? Isn't he the creator of Satan after all? Isn't god directly responsible for death and destruction and natural disasters and famine and disease?

It seems hard to believe that without god moral people would suddenly turn into rampaging criminals, that they would abruptly turn into thieves, rapists, and murderers. I think most of us try to be good because generations of built-up experiences have taught us that civility gives much more favorable returns than chaos and anarchy.

If morality is pre-programmed by a supreme being with no alternatives, then what value can be placed on forced virtue? And what good is morality if only practiced out of fear? To quote Albert Einstein, "If people are good only because they fear punishment, and hope for reward, then we are a sorry lot indeed."

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Darwin

by @ 1:35 am
Filed under: religion

Charles DarwinFor all the flack Darwin gets from the creationist/intelligent design crowd, none has been able to put forth any credible evidence of a divine force running the show. Sure, they have their books and their myths and their Pascal wagers. They attack and vilify Darwin for having dared question his contemporary beliefs and engage in scientific experiments to understand the true nature of life.

Darwin and many like him have had the courage to challenge deep-rooted beliefs, no for the sake of defying them, but because of their unquenchable quest for knowledge and the truth. We should all salute them for opening their eyes and their minds and risking much in search of the real answers. No, we don't have all the answers, and we may never do. But where would we be without these noble people? Happy 200th, Charles Darwin.

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Sales, Politics, and Religion

by @ 11:09 pm
Filed under: marketing,politics,religion

For a brief period in my career I was encouraged to try my hand at sales. I was ok at it and made decent commissions but in the end I knew that sales wasn't my calling and I returned to my passion, technology, mainly programming. That brief stint taught me one lesson in salesmanship. When on a sales call, steer away from passionate topics, specially when you don't know which way the prospect is leaning. References to religion and politics should be avoided in favor of more neutral topics, unless the product is geared towards a certain persuasion.

Today I was shown an online demo of a Web product. The salesman had worked hard to secure a slice of my time to showcase his product. The part I found curious was the demo Web pages I was being shown. They included news articles about the Pope's Visit with Bush, Christianity, and the Church. Now I have no problem with these topics when used in the context of product demonstration, but I wondered if the salesperson knew about my liberal, religion-free mindset, would he have still picked these topics for his product demo.

The salesman never lead the conversation towards politics or religion, and we kept the conversation on-topic, centered around the features of the product and the cost of implementation. But I could imagine that another liberal person might have reacted negatively to all this and written the whole thing off.

The point is that avoiding emotionally charged topics such as religion and politics, however indirect, is a prudent policy when making a sales pitch to someone you don't know. This salesman may experience much higher success if he picks safer, more neutral examples for his demonstrations. For example, I'm not interested in team sports, but I doubt anyone would have a negative reaction to samples depicting baseball bats . Why take a chance on distracting or alienating your prospects when your goal is to secure their business?

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Religious Contextual Ads

by @ 10:07 pm
Filed under: religion,social,web

Religious Contextual AdsSometimes contextual ads can reveal interesting facts about a site and its visitors. For some time I have noticed that Google Adsense has been displaying a certain banner for a site targeting Muslims seeking marriage partners.

Personally I don't mind religious ads on my site. It's all about business. I consider myself an agnostic (as in, I can not with certainty prove or disprove the existence of god or the validity of any religion,) but I have a liberal view towards faith. People should be free to choose whatever creed works for them as long as they don't force it on others.

I don't know what algorithm Google employs in targeting Adsense ads, but I must assume they strive to maximize click-through rates. It's possible that many of my site's visitors are Muslims (or Moslems, as Persians pronounce it), or perhaps my middle-eastern last name, Hashemian, triggers these banners. My bet is on the latter. To the algorithm, I'm just an unknown visitor from the U.S. who happens to be visiting the site.

At any rate, there must be some religious profiling at work here. I haven't seen any Christian or Jewish or Hindu-oriented ads on my site. Certainly I haven't seen anything for matching Agnostics or Atheists.

If the site helps two Muslims find each other and become a couple, that's cool with me. But if the marriage produces a male child (or female, for that matter,) I only hope they resist the temptation to have their child genitally mutilated, or in euphemistic term, circumcised.

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Spitzer and Morality

by @ 9:57 pm
Filed under: politics,religion,social

When I first heard of Spitzer's scandal, my first thought was, "you live by the sword, you die by the sword." But as deserving as Spitzer's fate was, his legacy as an Attorney General and as a Governor was probably a positive one. On balance he did more good for the people of New York than the final damage done by his hubris and his sanctimonious posturing.

I see nothing wrong with prostitution. In fact I'm all for legalizing the profession. But in the end, the biggest lesson in Spitzer's downfall is the pervasive hypocrisy among the men of power. He certainly isn't alone in that respect. The next time you listen to some fiery speech about morality, truth, and justice keep in mind that the person on the soapbox is probably the last person to heed his own advice.

That politician, priest, rabbi, or imam advocating the best qualities of man, quite possibly embodies the worst qualities of mankind. Be it molesting young boys, stealing public money, or exhorting young men to commit murder in the name of god, most are pathetic self-serving narcissists out to enrich themselves.

These cults of personalities may come with different sizes, names and agendas, but most are part of the same sleazy fraternity. Have our moral compasses gone so awry that we need their phony guidance? Listen to your own sense of right and wrong and toss their lectures and speeches on a trash heap. You'll do just fine without their drivel. It's the old "do as I say, not as I do."

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Back! to Jogging

by @ 1:11 am
Filed under: health,religion,running-hiking,star trek

Those who know me (there aren't too many) know that running is an addiction of mine. But just like any addiction there comes a time when a man must realize when to quit. In the immortal words of Dirty Harry, "A man's got to know his limitations." That limitation hit me in the back with a Magnum force a few weeks ago and I'm still trying to recover from it.

Running is a great stress reliever, but not when backache comes calling. This latest one came without a warning. One day I rolled out of bed and there it was. Like any addict, I ignored the pain and went about my running, but this one didn't seem interested in healing. The doctor says the spine looks normal, it's probably a bulging disc. The advice: take it easy, do some back exercises and ride it out.

So for the past couple of weeks I had replaced jogging with walking. It's not so easy kicking such a strong habit, specially one that's been a part of my life for so long. Still, walking isn't so bad once you get used to it, specially if the alternative is painful pinches. It's inevitable that if live long enough, I'd have to give up running at some point. I just hope that time is not now. Anyways, tonight I finally switched over to some light jogging and there seems to be a glimmer of hope there. The pain is still there, but it feels more subdued now.

Human body is a flawed piece of work. Regardless of the intelligent design versus the evolution debate, the human body is no work of art. I can understand that nature is imperfect, but if god is the designer, he can't be that perfect creator that religion purports him to be. He sure has a lot of learning about the KISS concept, as in, Keep It Simple, Stupid. I mean why all this complexity when he probably could have taken a much simpler approach?

Reminds me of Nomad, the perfect sterilizing machine, from the Star Trek Episode, The Changeling. This is what it said, referring to biological units (humans):

The unit Scott is a primitive structure. Insufficient safeguards built in. Breakdown can occur from many causes. Self-maintenance systems of low reliability.

Nomad, Star Trek, The Changeling

If only I could have Nomad fix my back the way he revived Scotty after killing him with a high energy bolt. But alas, Nomad wasn't so perfect itself either, and it finally met its own demise by the imperfect Captain Kirk.

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Circumcision - Religious Child Mutilation

by @ 12:56 pm
Filed under: religion

If you are a male born into a Jewish or Moslem family, chances are you are circumcised. Circumcision is a euphemism for penile mutilation. I was horrified by the images I saw in this LiveLeak video taken from a Turkish ceremony where scores of young boys are gleefully taken by their parents to a butcher shop to be mutilated. It's hard to fathom what motivates a parent to even consider such a savage act against his or her own child.

Of course, no sane parent would rip out a child's arm, or sever a child's ear, but somehow this barbaric practice is tolerated and even celebrated in the name of god. A reasonable person might ask, why does god care about a man's foreskin? Aren't there more important things for god to consider than obsessing over men's penises?

Some parents would tell you that god doesn't care, they disfigure their boys as a show of respect and reverence. Others would condone it by claiming health and sanitary benefits! Of course you'd be hard pressed to find anyone who'd admit the truth; that they are fanatics and want to selfishly score a few points with god, or they are just ignorant, following a tradition that, unbeknownst to them, predates theism itself.

I have no problem with an adult deciding to mutilate himself in the name of god or whatever else. But subjecting innocent boys (and sometimes girls) to this cruel and excruciating practice is nothing short of diabolical, or at least demented.

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The Agnostic Advantage

by @ 10:29 pm
Filed under: religion

The other day I was browsing through Amazon's bestseller books page when I came upon the book, The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. Dawkins is the famed British scientist who authored the controversial book, The Selfish Gene, back in 1976. These days he is better known as a vocal atheist and an equal opportunity denouncer of religion and theology.

The subjects of God and religion have become hot topics these days, perhaps more pronounced than the decades past. Each side has dug in its heels and are duking it out on the public arena. The battle between evolution and intelligent design is only one front on that war. Each side is engaged in a struggle to win as many converts as they can and usher more people into their camps. Having a strongly neutral position, I decided to engage in a bit of research and listen to what each side had to offer.

In the end it became obvious that what each side seems to be targeting is the agnostic. Agnostics offer a tempting target to both atheists and the religious because of their openness, tolerance, and their willingness to listen. They are fertile ground to those who want to persuade them to join their cause against the other side.

Neither religion-oriented nor atheists, they are the Switzerland of the war waging between atheism and religion. I suspect another major reason behind targeting this group is that most people, whether they admit or not, are agnostics in nature. They might label themselves atheists, but still struggle with the 'what if' question, as in what if there exists a supreme being who has had a hand in orchestrating everything around us? Or what if science does prove the existence of God some day? On the other side, many religious people are disillusioned with the current world affairs and wonder if there were a God, would he have allowed the state of world to be in such dire condition? Religion hasn't scored many positive points lately. From terrorism to church scandals, religion's image, as an institution, has been considerably damaged, disillusioning many believers.

Each side of this battle has a treasure trove of arsenals in the forms of theories, testimonials, and evidence (however tenuous) to support its position. They are all compelling points of argument, but when you clear the haze, the crux of both arguments rests on a rather simple, yet fundamental, unknown; the origin of the universe. The religious camp argues that the universe could not have come to existence by chance. That it would have needed a designer or a creator, as everything else does. Even if you trace the origin of the universe to the big bang, someone had to be there to spark that original event and place all matters in their current forms. Atheists, while admitting lack of knowledge on the pre-bang conditions (at least for the time being), counter that time and evolution are responsible for the current nature of the universe. Besides, if everything must have a creator, they respond, then God must have had a creator as well. Following the same argument, his creator must have its own creator. This leads to an endlessly vicious circular reference whose final answer is as clear as the exact value of Pi.

Obviously the old age debate will not be resolved any time soon, if ever. Which is why many have decided (consciously or otherwise) to remain agnostics. They see value in both sides' arguments, but they also see plenty of inconsistencies and contradictions. Fence-sitting has its privileges. You can believe in God, but also believe in evolution. You can believe in having a good moral character without believing in heaven or hell. You can believe in science without believing that it can or will ever answer everything about the universe. Yes, sometimes it's troubling to subscribe to two contradictory views, especially when those views within themselves are contradictory. But given the belief choices available today, why not sample all the good parts? After all, we live in the age of iced-coffee, kosher ham, and veggie burgers. Why not religious ambiguity?
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